Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage in a joint becomes damaged and worn. This may be from age, wear and tear, overuse of the joint, obesity, or other problems. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it's most common in hands, knees, spine, hips, and feet. Symptoms include joint stiffness, and pain. It's also called degenerative joint disease.

Home care

  • When a joint is more sore than usual, rest it for 1 or 2 days.

  • Heat can help relieve stiffness. Take a hot bath or apply a heating pad for up to 30 minutes at a time. If symptoms are worse in the morning, using heat just after awakening can help relax the muscle and soothe the joints. 

  • Ice helps relieve pain. It's often used after activity. Use a cold pack wrapped in a thin cloth on the joint for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. 

  • Alternating hot and cold can also help relieve pain. Try this for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day.

  • Exercise helps prevent the muscles and ligaments around the joint from becoming weak. It also helps maintain function in the joint. Be as active as you can. Talk to your healthcare provider about what activity program is best for you.

  • Excess weight puts a lot of extra strain on weight-bearing joints of the lower back, hips, knees, feet, and ankles. If you are overweight, talk to your provider about a safe and effective weight loss program.

  • Use anti-inflammatory medicines as prescribed for pain. This includes acetaminophen or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Don't take NSAIDs if your provider has told you that you can't take NSAIDS because of other health problems. If needed, topical or injected medicines may be advised. Talk with your provider if these choices aren't enough to manage your pain. Follow the directions on all over-the-counter medicines. If you're taking NSAIDs routinely, talk to your provider.

  • Talk with your provider about devices that might help improve your function and reduce pain.

  • Talk with your provider about physical therapy to help strengthen your joints and the nearby muscles.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Redness or swelling of a painful joint

  • Discharge or pus from a painful joint

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Joint pain that gets worse

  • Decreased ability to move the joint or bear weight on the joint

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